Date of Award

Fall 10-9-2015

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Social Work (DSW)

First Advisor

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD

Second Advisor

Carolyn Walter, PhD

Third Advisor

Robbie Davis-Floyd, PhD

Abstract

Abstract

DISENFRANCHISED GRIEF IN POSTPARTUM WOMEN: A HEURISTIC INQUIRY INTO WOMEN’S LIVED EXPERIENCE OF LOSS OF THE DREAMED-OF BIRTH

Rumyana P. Kudeva, MSW, LCSW

Jeffrey Applegate, PhD

The childbearing year is of upmost significance in a woman’s life, carrying inherent possibilities of empowerment and self-actualization. Most women create a vision of their “dreamed-of birth” that represents their beliefs about birth and their role in the process.

However women’s expectations about birth are often subverted by the authoritative knowledge and practices of the Western maternity care system or by the unpredictable nature of the birth itself. The pregnant woman repeatedly becomes the object of the “medicalized gaze” of a technocratic medical system that places her in the passive role of “compliant patient,” being “delivered” by professionals and robbed of her inner power and embodied knowledge of giving birth. Coming out of the childbirth experience with feelings of being uncared for, silenced, and even abused can cause serious long term psychological reactions in postpartum women.

Many of these women are left unacknowledged and unsupported by professionals who unwittingly contribute to the disenfranchisement of their grief. Furthermore their grief remains invisible if they continue to appear capable and productive in their lives.

This phenomenological study explores how a sample of nine women whose actual birth experience violated their “dreamed-of” birth coped with associated feelings of loss and unacknowledged grief. Employing Kenneth Doka’s concept of disenfranchised loss and grief as the theoretical framework, I conducted informal conversational in-depth interviews and employed a heuristic approach in order to explore women’s lived experience of postpartum grief. From my findings, I draw specific implications for clinical social work knowledge building and practice.